A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : WHAT RECESSION? : A Few Good Men (and One Woman) and More Than a Few Millions

Hollywood riddle: Which upcoming Christmas movie was the most expensive to make but the cheapest to produce?

Answer: The one starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore.

Before cameras even rolled on "A Few Good Men," the $41-million military courtroom drama due out from Columbia Pictures on Dec. 11, independent producer Castle Rock Entertainment shelled out a reported $12.5 million to Cruise, $5 million to Nicholson ($500,000 a day for 10 days' work) and slightly less than $2 million to Moore (her fee was negotiable, sources said, because she fought for the role against Jodie Foster and Linda Hamilton). Add to that another $1 million to Kiefer Sutherland, $750,000 to Kevin Bacon and $4 million to director Rob Reiner, a partner in Castle Rock.

The fees paid to "talent"--Reiner and the actors--were more than half what the producer spent to make the movie, before even one frame of film was shot. Once the paychecks were cut, the rest of the production was a steal.

That's because "A Few Good Men," based upon the successful Broadway drama by Aaron Sorkin and adapted by him for the screen, was shot almost entirely on a sound stage at Culver Studios in Culver City, with the exception of two weeks of location shooting exteriors in Washington.

The action mostly follows Cruise, playing a Navy lawyer, as he struggles to uncover the truth about a court-martial of two young Marines charged with murder of a fellow serviceman stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nicholson plays the base commander, who is a reluctant witness at the trial.

No fancy camera work or costly special effects were employed. In keeping with its origins as a play, the film is largely a dialogue between the principal characters; the settings were mainly military offices, Cruise's apartment and the courtroom. (The Defense Department refused to endorse the project, thus barring shooting from taking place on any military installations.)

Castle Rock and Columbia are very high on the movie and are already spreading the buzz that it is a shoo-in as a best picture Oscar contender--not to mention a sure-fire box-office hit.

So it seems that except for a few "temper tantrums" by Moore (sources said she felt neglected when Cruise and Nicholson were both on set), the production was trouble-free.

"The film was cast with who Rob (Reiner) thought would be right for the roles. We think he made all the right decisions. (The actors) have proven that they've helped make a great movie," said Martin Shafer, a partner in Castle Rock.

Money well spent? The verdict's soon in the hands of moviegoers.

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